Tamil Eelam: An Observation

Faithful observation and un-biased analysis would say: ‘The distinction between politics and religion was not discovered but invented.’ The whole project’s evil genius is, when you divorce the moral, ethical and spiritual dimension from statecraft then Religion is expected to play a passive and respectable role, aiding and abetting if you will — just there to bless and sprinkle Holy Water on the actions of the State. As long as the religious teaching doesn’t challenge the actions of the state, then all will be happy. But the moment questions are raised, religious bodies become alive and vocal, as has happened in Latin American countries.1 Then, and only then, does religion become a danger, viewed even as a subversive power against the Pharaoh’s of this world.

There is also, as we know, the strange amalgam called the state religion. State puts its authority behind a chosen sect and gives it primacy over other religious bodies. In return, this chosen sect rubber stamps its spiritual cloak over the actions or inactions of the state. The classic example is, just before a territory-expansion/colonising war, this chosen sect can hoodwink the masses by declaring it to be a Just War or even a Holy War. The trickery is, people often don’t ‘see’ the subtle politicking of a state religion. State is left here, by hook or by crook, “to impersonate God.” William Cavanaugh observed in Torture And Eucharist, ‘As the state itself becomes guarantor of rights, human rights become tied, in bitter irony, to the security of the state.’

Theravada

Buddhism is state religion in the failed state of Sri Lanka. The divisive theology of the Buddha Sangha is the back-bone of the state. Sangha not only believes in the primacy of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, (as is enshrined in the Constitution) but also it believes that Lanka is the chosen land for a chosen race called the Sinhalas.2 The Tamils (Demelu) are viewed as the contaminating element3 Angarika Dharmapala (1864-1933) the political activist/ scholar-monk preached the uniqueness of the land and the Sinhala nation. He promoted the idea that the Sinhalas were a pure Aryan race.4

So, the Sri Lankan state is well and truly a Sinhala-Buddhist state and there is no leg room for the flourishing of pluralism.

It is risible for western governments to expect the Sinhala state to guarantee the safety of human rights of the Tamils. Since the 1950’s there have been a series of state-sponsored pogroms and secret colonisation of the traditional homelands of Ceylon Tamils.5 Since the 1980’s there has been an unceasing war against the Tamils. Over 80,000 civilians have died and many more maimed. (There is “no official figure” as such, but this figure is generally accepted by HR organisations.)

It is in this context, the idea of Tamil Eelam has to be examined. If the result of a self-determination struggle claims back the traditional Tamil home-land as the sovereign state, then, that cannot be a criminal idea. The question is: can Tamil Eelam and the Sinhala state remain within the confines of a sovereign Sri Lanka in a twin-state solution?

  1. Archbishop Oscar Romero, “The Last Sermon,” from The Church and Human Liberation, March 14, 1980. []
  2. Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah, Buddhism Betrayed? The University of Chicago Press, 1992. This book was banned in Sri Lanka. []
  3. Urimila Phandis, Religion and Politics in Sri Lanka. London: C. Hurst and Co., 1974. []
  4. Lawrence J Swier, Sri Lanka: War-Torn Island. World in conflict series. []
  5. A. Sivanandan, “Sri Lanka: racism and the politics of underdevelopment,” Race and Class Journal, Summer 1984. []

Chandi Sinnathurai is a peasant priest who believes life is beautiful and divine, hence no one, including one's enemies, should be denied fundamental human rights. He leads Conscience Appeal. Read other articles by Chandi, or visit Chandi's website.

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  1. Jim Cronin said on June 29th, 2008 at 6:53pm #

    Buddhism probably became a state religion only about two hundred years after the Buddha died. The original Buddha was a healer, who said “I only teach about suffering and the ending of suffering.” He was not a mystic, his teaching was NOT hard to understand, and he never intended to start a religion.

    Following his murderous conquest of Kalinga by the Mauryan Emperor Asoka (c.271-232 BCE), he “repented” and became a lay Buddhist, but clearly used Buddhism to secure his rule. He was the Buddhist equivalent of Christianity’s “Saint” and emperor, Constantine. Some authorities claim he controlled the Third Buddhist Council, expelled and even executed monks for “wrong views.” It was his son, Mahinda, who established Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

    Later, Buddhism absorbed the ideas of karma and reincarnation from the ruling Brahmans in India, and was eventually destroyed by them, but not before the corrupted form spread throughout Asia. A recent historical example is found in Zen priest Brian Victoria’s book Zen at War. Victoria revealed that the leaders of the Soto Zen sect in particular were propagandists for the state: energetically promoting fascism, racism, antiSemitism, war and emperor worship before and leading into WWII. Some of the leading Zen priests in this effort were precisely those who trained prominent American Zen masters. Michael Parenti’s essay on Tibetan Buddhism reflects the same integration of despotism with aberrant doctrines. Luckily, one can still heal and learn a lot from meditation, but it’s difficult to cut through the nonsense.